What is the age of accountability?

“David had confidence that he would see his son again”

King David had a child that was born out of his sinful relationship with Bathsheba. The baby became sick, so David fasted and prayed for him. When the child died, David got up, took care of himself and made the following statement: “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2Sa 12:23). David had confidence that he would see his son again, that he would go to him. It does not say that they would both go to the grave as some interpret this passage; it says that David would go to his son.

So how should we understand this passage in light of original sin? Was that baby not born as part of a fallen race in a fallen world? Certainly he was born out of a sinful situation. Didn’t that little “son of Adam” carry within him a fallen nature? Doesn’t Romans 5:12 apply? Good questions.


“...at what age does a child become accountable for their sin nature?”

While the Bible doesn’t mention the phrases “age of accountability” or “age of innocence”, these concepts are a popular discussion among Christians. The basic question is this: if a child dies before accepting Christ as their savior, does God hold them accountable for their sin? If so, at what age does a child become accountable for their sin nature?

When discussing the age of accountability, it helps to consider that the issue at hand is not the presence of original sin, but rather individual accountability for sin. The topic concerns an individual’s guilt or innocence, rather than sin nature versus no sin nature. Even in our flawed legal system, children are often not convicted or punished as strongly for their crimes. This is not because they didn’t commit a crime, but rather because of their age. Kids cannot understand the true severity of their crime; therefore, they are not tried the same way as adults.


“If he can justify the guilty, I have no doubt he can justify the innocent. ”

In light of that, let us consider the following:

Psalm 106:37-38  Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.

This passage describes how the nation of Israel failed to drive out the inhabitants of the Promised Land, and instead took on their evil ways, including the horrible act of infant sacrifice. Do you see how the children are described? As innocent.

We see innocent blood shed again at Calvary (Mat 27:4). In Matthew 27:24, Jesus is also described as just. To be justified is to be righteous—free from condemnation for violating God’s ways.  Jesus, who was innocent and just, died for our sins and rose for our justification (Rom 4:24). This means he paid the penalty for all sin; thus, he could justify those who trusted in that payment. Jesus can declare us as just because he paid the penalty.  If he can justify the guilty, I have no doubt he can justify the innocent.


“...until they are able to consciously make a choice about God’s truth, they cannot be held accountable to it.”

So, let’s wrap up the doctrinal talk here with two things:

1. Salvation comes by trusting in the gospel; however, there are many concepts such as sin, righteousness, faith, and justification included in believing and confessing Christ as savior.  Read Romans 1:17-18 and pick out all the themes that are in those two verses. All children are unable to understand the gospel when they are born or even at young ages like two or three years old.  At some point, they can choose to believe or reject the gospel. But until they are able to consciously make a choice about God’s truth, they cannot be held accountable to it.

2. An age of accountability is not given in scripture. In Jewish culture, boys are said to become men at age 13 (bar mitzvah) and girls women at age 12 (bat mitzvah). This hints at a possible age of accountability being around 12 years of age.

I think around age 12 is a likely age of accountability, but since the Bible does not say, we can’t know for sure.  Many kids are saved well before age 12. However, the age of 12 does happen to be significant in scripture.

In Luke 2:41-42, Jesus was 12 years of age when he began to behave as a young adult. He did not simply follow his parents home, but instead went to discuss the scriptures with the doctors in Jerusalem. They took that trip every year. Why didn’t Jesus make that choice at age 9, or 10, or 11? Later, in Luke 8:42, a dying 12-year-old girl is healed by Jesus.

Although these passages are far from doctrinal directives, this is the book of Dr. Luke, depicting Jesus as the Son of Man. Also, where are the 9-, 10-, or 11-year-old kids in scripture?


I don’t believe that if a child were to die one hour before he turns 12 he would go to Heaven, yet one hour later he would go to Hell. Rather, I believe that 12 is about the age at which children are able to understand enough to be accountable for their choices. Interestingly, this is around the age at which the cement hardens on a person’s worldview.

Reading 2 Samuel 12, it seems clear that David knew he would see his son again and was comforted by that knowledge. Certainly, for any of us who have lost little ones, having the same certainty is important. It is most comforting to consider how Jesus treated children:  

Mar 10:14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

Christ Best is the Missions pastor at Midtown Baptist Temple. He serves alongside his wife, Cristine, in their Sunday Fellowship Living Well, and is the father of five. In this post, Chris shares about what the Bible teaches concerning the age of accountability in our children’s lives.